Tension pneumothorax in small odontocetes

Laura Martino, José Luís Crespo-Picazo, Daniel García-Parraga, Jaume Alomar, Bárbara Serrano, Alex Cobos, Maria Dolores Pérez-Rodriguez, María Frau, Yvonne Espada, Maria Lourdes Abarca, Paula Escaño, Mariano Domingo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Pneumothorax, the accumulation of air in the pleural cavity, occurs when air enters the pleural space by the pleuro-cutaneous, pleuro-pulmonary, or pleuro-oesophageal-mediastinal route. Tension pneumothorax is an infrequent and severe form of pneumothorax where a positive pressure in the pleural space is built up during at least part of the respiratory cycle, with compression of both lungs and mediastinal vessels, and, if unilateral, with midline deviation towards the unaffected hemithorax. We describe 9 cases of tension pneumothorax in 3 species of small cetaceans (striped dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba, common dolphin Delphinus delphis, and common bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus) from the western Mediterranean coast of Spain, and one case from a dolphinarium. Computed tomography (CT) imaging performed in 2 carcasses before necropsy showed lung compression, midline deviation, and pressure on the diaphragm, which was caudally displaced. Tension pneumothorax was recognized at necropsy by the presence of pressurized air in one of the hemithoraces. Seven of the pneumothorax cases were spontaneous (2 primary and 5 secondary to previous lung pathology). In the other 2 dolphins, the pneumothorax was traumatic, due to oesophageal-pleural perforation or rib fractures. We hypothesize that pneumothorax in dolphins is predominantly tensional because of their specific anatomical and physiological adaptations to marine life and the obligate exposure to extreme pressure changes as diving mammals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-57
Number of pages15
JournalDiseases of aquatic organisms
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2023


  • Cetacean
  • Odontocete
  • Pulmonary bullae
  • Stranding
  • Tension pneumothorax


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